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Gastroenterology. 2011 Jul;141(1):237-48, 248.e1. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2011.04.007. Epub 2011 Apr 16.

Aryl hydrocarbon receptor-induced signals up-regulate IL-22 production and inhibit inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract.

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Dipartimento di Medicina Interna, Università Tor Vergata, Rome, Italy.



The pathogenesis of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is believed to involve an altered balance between effector and regulatory T cells. Aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), a ligand-dependent transcription factor that mediates the toxicity of dioxins, controls T-cell responses. We investigated the role of AhR in inflammation and pathogenesis of IBD in humans and mouse models.


AhR expression was evaluated in intestinal tissue samples from patients with IBD and controls by real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and flow cytometry. Intestinal lamina propria mononuclear cells (LPMCs) were activated in the presence or absence of the AhR agonist 6-formylindolo(3, 2-b)carbazole (Ficz). Colitis was induced in mice using trinitrobenzene sulfonic acid (TNBS), dextran sulfate sodium (DSS), or T-cell transfer. Mice were given injections of Ficz or the AhR antagonist 2-metyl-2H-pyrazole-3-carboxylic acid; some mice first received injections of a blocking antibody against interleukin (IL)-22. Cytokines were quantified by real-time PCR and flow cytometry.


Intestine tissue from patients with IBD expressed significantly less AhR than controls. In LPMCs from patients with IBD, incubation with Ficz reduced levels of interferon gamma (IFN)-γ and up-regulated IL-22. Mice injected with Ficz were protected against TNBS-, DSS-, and T-cell transfer-induced colitis; they had marked down-regulation of inflammatory cytokines and induction of IL-22. Mice given AhR antagonist produced more inflammatory cytokines and less IL-22 and developed a severe colitis. Neutralization of endogenous IL-22 disrupted the protective effect of Ficz on TNBS-induced colitis.


AhR is down-regulated in intestinal tissue of patients with IBD; AhR signaling, via IL-22, inhibits inflammation and colitis in the gastrointestinal tract of mice. AhR-related compounds might be developed to treat patients with IBDs.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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